THE last Vulcan bomber to take to the skies above Yorkshire will remain a “living aircraft” despite coming to the end of its flying days, according to the trust dedicated to its preservation.
The 55-year-old XH558 has been thrilling millions of enthusiasts around the UK this summer in its last-ever flying season.
But it loses its permit to fly at the end of this month as the engineering firms who have helped keep it in the air have finally accepted that they no longer have the 1950s skills available to ensure safety.
Richard Clarke - a trustee of Vulcan To The Sky Trust - said it has been inspiring to watch the huge crowds that have turned out to see the huge Cold War bomber at air shows around the country this year.
He said: “We’ve had eight full flying seasons and the impact on the British public has been absolutely amazing.
“We estimate around 22 million people have seen the aircraft in her flying years, which is absolutely incredible.”
Standing in front of the aircraft at its home at Robin Hood Airport, in Doncaster, Mr Clarke said: “This aircraft has got an amazing emotional connection to the British public.
“It’s one of those aircraft that’s been taken to the heart - a bit like Concorde, really.
“I think that’s due to not just the power and the manoeuvrability but also the grace of the aircraft, the shape of the aircraft - those beautiful delta wings which, of course, led to so many other engineering innovations in the following years.”
He said: “She looks futuristic, not the age she is. She’s 55 years old, you’d never believe it.”
The Vulcan fleet was designed in the late 1940s and delivered to the RAF in the mid 1950s to carry Britain’s independent nuclear deterrent.
When the Royal Navy’s Polaris missile submarines took over this role in the early 1970s, the Vulcans carried on as conventional bombers.
In this latter role, they had a final hour of glory in 1982 when they bombed the runway at Port Stanley during the Falklands War - a raid which has gone down in military history due to the complex multiple refuelling operation that was necessary over such huge distances.
“It has a very auspicious and historic link with the RAF and did a great job over the years in preventing war ever happening,” Mr Clarke said.
“The Government wanted an aircraft that could carry the full nuclear capability right into the Soviet Union. And this aircraft could do that. It had great range and could fly right into the heart of enemy territory.”
XH558 was the first B2 variant Vulcan to be delivered to the RAF in 1960.
It was also the last Vulcan to fly as an RAF aircraft in 1992.
Although much of its service was at RAF Waddington, in Lincolnshire, it spent many years in its current home, Hangar 3 at RAF Finningley, which is now an international airport.
It was brought back into service after years of work in 2008 by the trust which now aims to keep it alive for future generations.
As well as plans for a new visitor centre at its Doncaster base the trust has pledged to keep it maintained for what is known as fast-taxiing. This is when XH558 roars down the runway to take-off speed, letting enthusiasts hear its trademark engine howl, but without actually taking off.
“It’s sad it’s got to stop flying but there is a new life for the Vulcan,” Mr Clarke said.
“We want to let people have the ability to come and see the aircraft and get up close and personal to her - under the wings - and see what a fantastic engineering achievement she is and what a beautiful aircraft she is at first hand.”
He said: “We want her to remain a living aircraft.”